The Ultimate Solution for “Carmageddon”
Long-awaited improvements along Orlando’s I-4 corridor finally got underway in February. As one of Florida’s oldest and busiest, the 54-year-old highway runs from Daytona west to Tampa. After decades of heavy traffic, the road is in dire need of upgrades and repairs—especially in Orlando where (according to published reports) the average worker loses 38 hours annually while stuck in traffic on the city’s highway. Improvements along the I-4 corridor will eventually help minimize that loss.
The I-4 Ultimate
The $2.3 billion project, known as the I-4 Ultimate, will impact a 21-mile stretch from west of Kirkman Road to east of state road 434 in Orlando. The project will reconstruct 15 major interchanges and will completely rebuild general and auxiliary lanes, allowing speed limits to flow at 60 miles per hour. Express lanes will be added to the median of the highway. Plans also call for the widening of 13 bridges, adding 53 new bridges and replacing a total of 74 bridges.
Steve Olson, Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) spokesperson, expects peak construction to take place in about 18 months, at which time an estimated 1,500 workers will work on the highway and another 500 designers, engineers and support staff will work behind the scenes.
Areas that will benefit the most from these highway improvements include Orlando attractions, the downtown district, approximately 4.9 miles in the Ivanhoe district and another 6.4 miles in Altamonte. Construction is expected to be complete in early 2021.
A Unique Partnership
The extensive roadway reconstruction project was approved by the FDOT last September.
The I-4 Ultimate is made possible through a unique public-private partnership (P3) agreement between FDOT and I-4 Mobility Partners Opco LLC, which will take responsibility for the design, construction, financing, maintenance and operation of the project for the next 40 years.
“The project gives us the opportunity to show how a successful public-private partnership works, through construction and beyond, benefiting those who count on great infrastructure, which feeds a robust economy,” former FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad said.
According to FDOT reports, Skanska and John Laing of I-4 Mobility Partners invested $104 million of their own money into the project. A consortium of six commercial banks and the Federal Highway Administration provided additional financing for the project.
Through the P3 agreement, FDOT will retain ownership of the highway while transferring cost overrun risks for construction, long-term upkeep and responsibility for the construction debt to the private partner.
Repayment is expected at $75 million per year funded by state and federal funds, the Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Florida Turnpike Enterprise. Projections are based on July 2014 estimates. Tolls for the new express lanes are expected to begin in 2020.
President Obama’s GROW AMERICA Act is a $302 billion, four-year multi-model investment plan to address America’s aging transportation network, while also serving as a job stimulus. On September 9, 2014, at a Build America Infrastructure Investment Summit, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that a $950 million loan had been approved for the I-4 Ultimate project. This was the largest loan ever awarded to a P3 partnership through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).
Last July, President Obama also launched the Department of Transportation’s Build America Transportation Investment Center as a one-stop shop for those seeking to utilize innovative financing strategies for transportation infrastructure projects. To date, the center has financed $7.4 billion including the I-4 funds.
State officials say the unique P3 agreement between FDOT and I-4 Mobility will enable the public to benefit greatly with an accelerated construction schedule – and with an anticipated boost to the local economy.
“This critical infrastructure project will spur economic development and create thousands of jobs in Central Florida and beyond,” said Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown. “This project will also improve the region’s entire transportation system, helping to move people, goods and services in a more efficient manner.”
Florida Congressman Daniel Webster called the project a “big win” for Central Florida. “Transportation is the economic engine that fuels Florida’s economy. The I-4 Ultimate project will save hardworking taxpayers’ dollars while delivering the project nearly two decades sooner than could otherwise be expected. It will provide critical infrastructure that will enable us to continue to expand our business development, cultivate growth and create jobs,” said Webster.
As with any major construction project, roadwork will create temporary delays and more traffic congestion. Improvements are coming and will be expedited, but the bad news is that it will get worse before it gets better.
“Efforts will be made to keep as many lanes open as possible especially in the downtown areas during peak construction,” said Olson.
Even so, it’s hard to predict the delays. According to Olson, up to 200,000 vehicles were tracked in just one day along I-4 in downtown Orlando. With that much traffic before construction begins, now may be a good time to rethink your ride.
Courtney Reynolds serves as Program Manager for ReThink Your Commute – a program designed to promote the benefits of reducing traffic during peak business hours in the city. “The benefits of re-thinking travel are great: you can save money, reduce traffic, improve air quality and avoid traffic delays,” said Miller.
Olson recommends alternative routes such as the new expansion on John Young Parkway for those commuting on the west side of town. She also suggests riding Orlando’s SunRail.
SunRail Expands Services
With a 3.2 million estimated population growth in Central Florida by the year 2020 and over 50 million tourists visiting the Orlando area each year, the area’s SunRail transportation system provides a viable alternative to getting around the city.
Currently operated by Florida’s DOT, SunRail runs 34 train trips per day, Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Records show an average of 3,200 people rode SunRail trains daily in November 2014. On January 2, 2015 that number jumped to 9,000, showing the system is capable of accommodating an anticipated increase in passengers once I-4 construction begins.
Coinciding with the I-4 Ultimate project, SunRail will also expand its capabilities with the addition of new stops throughout the year.
When finished, SunRail North will extend service from the City of DeBary to the City of DeLand in Volusia County. SunRail South will extend service from Sand Lake Road in Orange County to Poinciana in Osceola County. This 29-mile segment will feature five stations and is expected to be up and running by 2017. u
Plan ahead, know what to expect and stay safe during I-4 construction. Know in advance about lane closures, ramp closures, detours and more. Real-time alerts will let you know what’s happening right now on your commute route. For more information visit: i4ultimate.com